Arkansas Governor Backs Off From Signing 'Religious Freedom' Bill

Gov. Asa Hutchinson sends controversial bill back for a rewrite.
27:52 | 04/01/15

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Transcript for Arkansas Governor Backs Off From Signing 'Religious Freedom' Bill
The religious freedom bill battle shifting focus now. To a different state Arkansas protesters fired up ready to battle over bill that they say. Last visit to discriminate against gays and lesbians and now the governor ace Hutchinson is about to address. The latest that is going on in his state. Let's listen in. More. Development. I appreciate our legislative leaders. And sells off. Permit process. Ever. One day is now. Yes. And is that it'll orders. Would not be caught her. These are not ordinary times. Spill is not really today. Bill itself Reese. Standard. Views or views. It's time for men privilege is way in. Assemblies. Well this legislation. Isn't balanced and dance. Bill itself not yet winners. He CE. All obligations. The issue. And our nation. Remains. Mercy of our culture with the traditions and firmly held religious convictions. It has divided families. And there's clearly a generational gap on this issue my son's death. Signed the petition asking the bad the governor to veto this bill. And he gave me permission to make that reference. And it shows that. Families and there's a generational. Difference of opinion on these issues. So where are we now in reference to this legislation. I have passed through this process of our legislative leaders and members. That certain changes be made. In some instances they were accommodated in change in there instances. They say it now. And that's the balance between the executive and the legislative branch I certainly respect those bodies. It's been might get hit intention all along that house bill 1228. The religious freedom restoration act be crafted and a way. That mirrors the federal. Religious freedom restoration act Ferris pass in 1990 theory and was signed by pressing plant. I came to congress after that but I said on the Judiciary Committee and House of Representatives. That considered these amendments had hearings on this. Federal. Religious freedom a restoration act. And so I'm somewhat familiar with it. And how it's played out across the country it is my intention. Because the federal law does not cover state cause of action that we have a similar law in Arkansas. And but we wanted to have crafted similar to what is at the federal level. And to do that though. Changes need to be made. The bill that is on my desk at the present time is not precisely mirror the federal wall. It does it mirror it in a couple of ways particularly. Allowing. The First Amendment to be asserted in. The private litigation between parties a worthy reliance upon the the state law and it in those clients. Therefore I ask that changes be made in the legislation. And I've asked that the leaders of the general assembly. To work all the bills so that it can be amended to reflect the terms of the federal. Religious. Freedom and restoration act. In the alternative. It can't be simply have some language changes so that. Those. Accommodations and changes can be made. So immediately got by recalling the legislation or having additional legislation that would accomplish those changes. Again. This is. Difference between the executive branch the legislative branch we all have our responsibilities we all have our different viewpoints. My responsibility. Is to speak out on my own convictions. And to do what I can as governor to make sure this bill reflects the values of the people of Arkansas. Protects those of religious conscience. But also minimizes the chance of discrimination. In the workplace. And in. The public environment. It is important to recognize that the bill. It is currently drafted does not change who we are. And it is not change the current protections against discrimination. This bill simply defines a standard. To determine. The right balance. But how do we as a state communicate to the world. That we are respectful of their first workplace. And we want to be known as a state that does not discriminate. But understands. Tolerance. That is a challenge that we face. Making this law like the federal. Federal law. Or eight S in that effort and communication but also it was my original objective from the beginning. Another option is that we're looking that is to utilize. An executive order which interestingly is not being utilized. From our re search. From the executive branch and state government. In terms protecting against discrimination in the workplace. Four state government. But we're looking at an executive order to eight in that communication to make it clear that Arkansas. Wants to be a place of tolerance. We want to be a place that has a right balance between religious protections of religious freedom. And nondiscrimination. Also I think we can be assured of this will continue to be a robust debate in the future. I understand that a ballot title has been approved by attorney general that may put on the ballot. An extension. The civil rights protection to additional. Classes. Citizens of Arkansas. That debate will continue and ultimately be determined by the people of this state either through their legislative body. Or. Through a vote of the people and so this conversation does audience. I've expressed my view to the legislature. It is up to them to respond to. The request of the governor that changes it made in the current bill to make it reflect. The federal law. That I think sets the right tone for Arkansas and its future will look at additional. Action down the road as needed. Two partly depending upon. The action at the legislature Mike today. With that I'll see it president has in the comments. I think he governor. Commit first let me say that. I support a rift for a in this session I think that the majority of those Chamber's support. A rep for being passed this session. I think there are some complications and if I'm just being blatantly honest. I've been in the middle of the budget. Today probably as much as anything else the last few days. To ask some brief questions about the language that we were passing. And and actually felt like we were nearing an end actually given some assurances that we were Miree that federal. The legislation. And it's my understanding through the business community. Other folks. In the state of Arkansas but that was not the case that this is not. Does not. Nearer the federal trip for a language and we'll actually opened the door to some probability veterans uncertainties. I think what we should be what we should pass. Should be something that's predictable. The federal ripper has been debated it's been through courts. And there are there are standards in place and an understanding of what the result of that ask would be here in this day. But the legislation that we have before us that certainty is not there. And and so again I support us moving forward. Support and right now this just be candid we we are having those discussions in the senate. About making those operations there's not become her there's not a conclusion. To that discussion that we want to be sure that our membership has all the information they can in front of them they can make a decision. That this is like changed in the in the course that they'd like to take. And thank you governor. Questions. Brokering. I I do not. I've communicated. Tuesday on my desire. Made the request of the home. I've spoken to the house caucus. I've spoken to the leadership. But I do not have a commitment as to what action they will tonight. Weekend. You mean if it's not fixed. Yes you correct mark my executive order will. Not be the same as a legislative fix I think the executive order that I'm working on. Will. Help in terms of setting the right. Example of tolerance in this state. Will help frame the debate. Well helped lead our state in terms of expectations of state action. But. It will not but the governing all will be. The bill that is ultimately signed into law the state. Much freedom of protection act. I him. Mike's position is clear. I've asked them to remedy it I've asked them to change the current. Walls and I've asked him to recall it and change the language on it that's my request today. I've. We'll just say I've asked the legislature to do that and I'll make further comments. After we determine what actionable tonight. Yes. One we have made requests for changes. But. Your legislative process is not perfect. You learn as you go on. The many in the community engage in this very late. Obviously we've been enacted a lot of different legislation so. Part of the you know there's been. Insufficient attention to some of the details perhaps as is gone through the legislative process but it comes to a focal point. And for some the changes I've asked. He has been communicated previously so and I've said it very clear publicly that. The language I used is I would support. A reference that mirrors federal law. And is similar what's been passed in twenty some other states now. Obviously there's some variations there but that's why pass for that it's been my position. And we just didn't quite get it perfect through a legislative process now it might be perfect from some people's viewpoint. They. Obviously there could be very happy with the the additional language that is in the Arkansas River about I have prefer the federal standard on that and that's when I've asked him to do. And I want what is reflected in the federal. Rick for a wall. Because as the president said this is got. Court cases. You've got a body of all that is interpreted at this very well willing and in good guy so that's. What I think is the right solution there again this legislation is not about picking winners and losers this legislation is about. That right standard and the right balance the courts can interpret this and so. That ultimately their sense of fairness. Is will be determined by the courts. What is important from Arkansas standpoint is that one we get the right balance and secondly. We make sure bet we communicate there we are not want to be. A state that fails to recognize the diversity our workplace our economy and our future. You. Weather and as I've said there's been learning process through all of this we've heard from. Constituents all across. Arkansas. Business leaders. And so. I have said they act. I would sign a all of it is similar infraction to the federal law or what's been in twenty other states. Whenever you look at what is on my desk. It is not mere of the federal. Referrals all an expired for a national I would ask him do. Let me make it clear that this law that is under consideration. Does not. XT and discrimination. And expansion work. Now as to whether. Our civil rights law in Arkansas. Needs to be changed. That is the debate is gonna happen. I wanna focus on what is needed right now. I do think bad this. This bill. That would be modeled after that federal law. Would help achieve that right balancing guidance for the courts and right Stan. Okay. Well the the issue on the table is the freedom restoration act which I want to see an active in Arkansas in the right form. In terms of where we go in and society. I don't believe the workplace. That discriminates judges you know whether it's Tyson's or whether it's Wal-Mart or whether it's. It's pillars or whether it's state government and I'll express. Bay view in. An executive order when asked prepared. I have had to ask some communication. Personally with some of the business leaders across the state others have communicated in different fashions. And they've raises an important issue and I don't think it's it's necessarily based upon. What's. In this lawless much is is how it's being construed. Nationally. And so it is a concern and asked why we have to as a state look for means to. Communique meant we recognize the diversity. Are. Workforce. We are in international community. In terms. Housing. Headquarters of international businesses here in this study. And we want to be able to compete in that market so this is both about substance. Which is getting this legislation right and it's also about communicating. To the world in two. Are our neighboring states that were a state that recognizes the diversity of the workforce. The need for nondiscrimination. And that we want to accomplish that. And so we have to look for ways to communicate and effectively. That's what we're doing right now in the businesses are doing that right now and it really being good partners communicate that very effectively. Police say first and foremost. The house representatives that we have all session long is committed to working with the senate and together for solutions on. Of this issue as we have to many others. We're working to the process now we're seeing. What the dynamics are going to be in with the logistics and road take them as we get. There. Place. I mean the one thing that we went nature is that East River as a chance to take a look at the language that were were discussing. And and I think before they destroy. Preachers say that you know there's going to be an agreement. I would hope that there is one again really. From my perspective because of the uncertainty. That the language Hanson place if you were to become long and and one thing I do want to sing on them thing I can. Don't speak for each member we'll say I'm not spoken to remember that once. Grip for a deceiving the state version to be something that. Allows for discrimination. I think I would challenge anyone who signed a member that would say that they're wanting to utilize this ripped the law. To allow for further discrimination. And I think that's important in the context we're talking about doing what we're talking about him because. If we. I think we have the same results even we had if we were to pass continue on. But the Spanish language with the exception we have certainty. Which you know thinks importance thank. Does this this conversation will continue. I thank you for your attention today obviously there's more work to be done. But I want to give Ian up today with yes. One final question. Well ever remember what have to speak for themselves. In terms. My view on it I have asked for changes through the process some of been accommodated some have not been accommodated. That's the legislative process. I'm asking. The legislature to. Take a look at this bill to re college or to bribe me a changed. Bill that will make Arkansas. Refer law mirror of the federal law I think that's our objective from beginning. With variations of these people on the members but that so what I'm asking them to do thank you all very much. So that as the governor of Arkansas and here's what's happened the House of Representatives in Arkansas had passed a religious freedom bill. The governor had originally set in fact that he would sign that bill that was before Indiana had passed a law that was very similar to the one at Arkansas I was considering and we just heard there from the governor. He now wants some changes to that piece of legislation before he will sign off on it for more on this want to bring in our political director recline standing by Washington DC with all this and Rick. What do you make of this first and foremost let's conflict get get to the details of this. Was Arkansas's bill very similar or identical to the one that was passed Indiana. This is an extraordinary series of events and because it was nearly identical to the Indiana legislation and it was. Largely viewed as noncontroversial up until we saw things erupt in Indiana over the past week the governor was very clear he was gonna sign this bill he was ready to sign this bill but his acknowledgment today. About the firestorm that erupted not just from gay rights activists and from Democrats but from business leaders even his own son the governor of Arkansas own son signing a petition. Urging his father to veto the bill. A stark acknowledgment that this had substantive as well as. Kind of PR problems and that's what the governor is saying here in not signing this bill saying it back to the legislature for changes if it's a major turning point in this debate that's roiled the country over the last week. Eight years I was over the reaction here one of the reaction is that the governor was considering and talked about as well and that you brought appears well it was a reaction from the CEO of Wal-Mart obviously major employer not only in Arkansas but in the world. This is what the CEO had said about this particular bill quote it threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion president of the opposite of Arkansas and is not reflect the values we probably uphold. Rick I also understand that former first lady of Arkansas Hillary Clinton also had a response. That's right just minutes before the the the that the governor was set to announce its decision she would call for a veto actually did in Indiana. Inserting herself in to this political debate. A couple of interesting points here Dan what is the Republican 26 -- have all been on record in the last days virtually all of them on record in support of winning Indiana has done. Which puts them at least somewhat at odds of that Arkansas is doing here I think it opens up of legitimate question for the presidential candidates. Do you think that the changes are that arkansas' not talking about our appropriate or would you still support what Indiana did now simultaneously. We know that in Indiana there debating some changes there could be some movement in the legislature as soon as today. The governor said he wants it by the end of the week. But a re calibration at the very least and it opens up this is window on a fascinating social debate. They that it is divided people it's divided families in the case of the governor of Arkansas divided politicians quite clearly. And now has the the governor of Arkansas it seems to be just listening. Four for maybe for a change for politicians listening to all sides of this trying to figure out the best course as suggesting a middle ground not a veto of the bill not signing a bill saying. Let's just cool this off let's look at it lately at like the legislature to take it back. Re examine it and see exactly what we're trying to accomplish here Rick. Let's talk the last of the politics all of this because before governor of Indiana Mike Pence at that in fact that his State's law was mere after the federal law. We just heard there from governor Hutchison saying a fact that he wanted his law for Arkansas to Mir the federal law. What does it do then to governor pence is argument and others that are supporting a Indiana style law when they say in fact no it's just like the national level. Well if if if Indiana was using a meaner than it had a couple of cracks and it and they were significant ones. One beat one is the the fact that it would apply to individuals bring individual complaints. And corporations as well Seattle you you'd be giving corporations the the right to exercise a degree of religious liberty that was not the federal legislation. And I mean even bigger though is the is the contacts the 1993 law was passed in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that limited individual. Religious freedom when it had to do with values religious ceremonies and exercise religion in that sense. Now we know this is a direct result or at least that. In a bleak results I should say of the wave of gay marriage rulings and the in Indiana's failure to get gay marriage ban this was seen as an alternative. I supporters of the the legislation in Indiana particularly sad we want to make sure that if your Christian business. Victor you won't be forced it to cater a gay or lesbian wedding. So that's a much different context of the intense of this so clearly differently governor Hutchison saying. I want to be sure that the the actual content is the same because that 1983. The law people point out flaws in it but there's no major effort to repeal that it hasn't. Made the world collapse over the last two decades there hasn't been. Waves of discrimination claims by gays or lesbians or anyone else. So if they can recalibrate this and make it apply the state level the same way it has the federal level then governor Hutchison says I'm okay with that and that frankly would make it. Pretty difficult for Democrats argue with because it was signed into law by President Clinton it was supported by a bipartisan majority in the house the senate. A 22 years ago so it would seem to be quite a bit less controversial. And that would be. In fact be what the what nineteen other states have done including senator Robb the states and their rock Obama's in 1988 doing so in Illinois so. I think that would that would probably take the temperature down a couple of significant degrees if they actually go word for word or as close as you can in state vs federal law. Our political director recline Rick thanks so much appreciate that. The story continues to develop Natalie Arkansas Indiana of course cross country you know today with like downloading the ABC news happened starring this story for updates on the go. I'm Dan that's anymore.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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